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Arizona primary: A look at the 5 ACC candidates

Posted at 8:52 PM, Jul 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-29 23:52:49-04

Two seats are available on the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), the statewide elected board that sets rates for several utilities.

The agency has jurisdiction over the state's largest electricity and gas providers, Arizona Public Service (APS) and Southwest Gas.

The five-member panel also oversees gas pipelines, railroads, regulates securities and registers corporations.

In the Democratic primary, incumbent Sandra Kennedy and candidate Lauren Kuby are running together.

Kennedy, elected in 2018, immediately began the process of subpoenaing APS about its political spending, joining an effort that former-Commission Chair Bob Burns had, until then, been alone in pursuing. That pushed the utility to reveal it had secretly spent millions of dollars in support of favored ACC candidates. Kennedy has also been a supporter of increasing clean energy generation, particularly solar. She declined an interview for this story with ABC15.

Kuby, is a sustainability scientist with ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation. A former two-term Tempe City Councilperson, Kuby decided to run for ACC rather than retain her seat. She told ABC15 that her main goal is to focus on consumers.

"That is my pledge, to be the utmost consumer advocate for the people of Arizona," she said.

Another of her priorities is to encourage clean energy generation.

"We are poised to lead in Arizona to lead in this clean energy economy. [An economy] that will actually save consumers costs and that it will be more affordable for all of us," she said. "We all want to pay less for our utility bills, but that's not going to happen when we're so dependent on gas, for example. We have such volatility in the gas markets."

Because there are only two seats available, both Kennedy and Kuby automatically go through to the general election ballot in November.

On the Republican side, voters will decide which two of three primary candidates will join them: Kim Owens, Kevin Thompson or Nick Myers.

Kim Owens is currently a commissioner on the Arizona Power Authority. The body regulates Arizona's portion of electricity produced by Hoover Dam.

She told ABC15 one of her main concerns is preventing electric retail competition despite the passage of HB2101 during this year's legislative session which repealed the state law that allowed the option.

"There exists a small group who insist on trying it (competition) here, even though we have over 20 years of data showing it's a tried and failed policy. I think it's still a threat," she said.

She also supports having the legislature rather than the ACC make energy policy — a debate that has been pushed to the forefront since the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in the Johnson Utilities case that some of the agency's power are permissive if they coincide with another agency's statutory authority. Another of her concerns is keeping the costs of corporation filings equitable.

She points to the difference in fees for expedited processing.

A service that normally costs $100 can be guaranteed to be completed faster if businesses pay $400.

"To me, that's buying up better government. And I don't know when in the history of our country, we've decided that that's okay," she said.

Candidate Kevin Thompson is a two-term Mesa City Councilman who is term-limited.

He said one priority would be to make ACC rate cases more efficient and improve relationships with utilities.

"We need to do a better job of doing our rate making and trying to work with the utilities instead of being adversarial, be partners," he said.

Thompson said his time setting rates for Mesa's power and gas utilities has given him necessary experience.

Other priorities are to push energy policy making to be done at the Legislature and disallowing rebates for ratepayers that make energy efficient changes.

"You want that savings? Then you should go out and purchase the thermostat. I shouldn't be purchasing it for you. And that's basically what rebates are," he said.

Thompson is running with Nick Myers who works as a policy adviser for current commissioner Justin Olson.

He said it is experience that has given him insight to what needs to be fixed.

"Oh, boy, there's a there's a laundry list of things," Myers told ABC15.

One of the most pressing, is what Myers called regulatory stability. He believes structural changes need to be made to how the agency functions.

"Things like having amendments for large items that happened over the lunchtime, and then they come back and vote on them, right? I mean, that's not enough time to digest it. Half the time, it's not even enough time to get it written down on paper," he said.

Like the other two Republicans, Myers is also in favor of shifting energy policy from the ACC to the Legislature.

"I think it's very dangerous to have three people setting energy policy, for example, for the entire state. I think it's much more appropriate to have 90 people and 90 brains," he said.

Myers an engineer by trade, said while is in favor of new technologies he does not believe clean energy integration should be forced by regulators.

"I love to see new technologies, but it has to fit in appropriate role without mandates and subsidies," he said.

ABC15 will be profiling candidates in many of the major races leading up to the upcoming Arizona primaries. For the latest Arizona election coverage, click here.